How Brokers Can Prioritize Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Dave and Anne Jones are building a brokerage that champions diverse voices and aims for increased homeownership rates among underrepresented populations.
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3 Takeaways:

  • Dave and Anne Jones are using diversity, equity, and inclusion as the framework of their Tacoma, Wash., brokerage.
  • From elevating black and brown voices in real estate, to advocating for homeownership among underrepresented communities, the Joneses are pushing back against the traditional broker model.
  • Brokers who wish to prioritize DEI across their company can start by auditing themselves and hiring a facilitator to help them identify their blind spots.

Dave and Anne Jones, the broker-owners of Windermere Abode in Tacoma, Wash., have always been propelled by their social justice beliefs. Over the last four years, they’ve been working to build a company that reflects their values and is centered around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). In their 2021 REALTOR® Broker Summit session, “Recruitment and Retention Through a DEI Lens,” the Joneses shared the blueprint they are currently working from, and the steps they recommend brokers take to become better stewards of their communities.

What is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

First, the Joneses defined the three key terms at the heart of their session and business. By committing to diversity in their brokerage, Dave said, they intentionally seek out people with diversity of thought, race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, religion, and more. “We want to make sure there are different people in our midst so that we can be the best that we can be and also serve as many people as possible.”

While equality is based around ensuring that everyone has the same resources, Dave stated that equity means that you work to facilitate the same outcomes. Last, inclusion is about making sure that everyone belongs.

Acknowledging that DEI has become a bit of a corporate buzzword, the Joneses shared that the work of creating a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive business requires a deep and long-lasting commitment to change. It also requires a complete reworking of the traditional brokerage framework. Rather than focusing solely on the growth of team members and production numbers, Windermere Abode’s goals are to recruit more diverse team members, create an inclusive environment, increase homeownership rates among underrepresented populations, and advocate for policy change while uplifting and investing in the community as a whole.

It’s a broad and ambitious vision, but the couple has been working to reimagine their internal operations and external messaging to ensure that they meet their DEI goals over time.

Updating Broker Training and Support to Meet DEI Goals

The first step the Joneses did to developing DEI measures was to alter the company’s internal operations. While they had never recruited in a traditional way, they did start to be more mindful in their hiring. Specifically, they only brought on agents and staff who were in full agreement with their company’s values. “If you’re uncomfortable talking about social justice issues, this will be a hard place for you to settle in. It’s baked into our culture and dialogue, it’s not a one-time event,” said Anne.

The couple also started mandatory staff training around implicit bias and other DEI issues, which they said was critical to helping their staff explore, identify, and work out blind spots. The training is a 12-month program, and it is facilitated by an outside professional firm. They also offer similar training opportunities to their agents twice monthly.

Next, they wanted to make sure that their regular meetings made space for conversations about history, culture, and other current issues occurring inside and outside of real estate. “We’re talking about market stats and we’re talking about Juneteenth in the same 45-minute office meeting,” said Anne. “It’s important to create that space and normalize those conversations.”

Last, Windermere Abode worked to ensure that no one is left behind, and the right team members are elevated. “The vibe here is that everyone is valuable, no matter how many houses you sell,” said Anne. This culture is most evident when they see team members mentor one another or offer co-listings or ride-alongs to an inspection or appointment.

From this team, both Dave and Anne work to elevate more diverse talent into leadership roles. They look beyond production and sales volume to determine which of their team members may be right to lead new initiatives.

Doubling Down on DEI Within Marketing and Outreach Efforts

Once they had cemented their internal training and support, the Joneses began to focus on marketing and outreach. When discussing Windermere Abode’s approach to external messaging, Dave said they wanted to make sure the company’s marketing and outreach mirrors what’s happening on the inside. “So, we speak to our own values, regularly,” he said. This includes voicing their positions on brokerage social media channels and the Joneses’ own personal channels.

The company also creates vehicles to showcase their brokers, in part to help normalize black and brown faces across the real estate space. Despite his natural tendency to be behind the camera, Dave said he has realized it’s important for him to be a voice and face of the company alongside Anne. When they set off to launch Abode Life podcast, it was an intentional choice to make Dave the host. He also thought critically about what angles he wanted to cover.

“I did a search of all the real estate podcasts out there and I said, ‘You know, I don’t see anything that really speaks to me personally.’” Today, he is conscious about inviting a more diverse group of guests to appear on the show and he also focuses on community coverage.

The podcast also offers the Joneses a way to “reduce barriers to implementation,” which is a tagline they’ve adopted when describing how they work to offer their team members non-traditional paths to success. Most real estate agent marketing is based around sales volume or listings, which can make it difficult for new or less productive agents to promote themselves. “If you have someone who is not selling a lot of houses, and they don’t have listings to push out in their marketing,” explained Anne, “they can do a podcast with Dave and that's something they can share and engage the community around.”

Windermere Abode also commits to supporting its team members with co-listings, referrals, and other production opportunities.

How Brokers Can Begin Prioritizing DEI

For brokers or brokerages who wish to commit to prioritizing DEI, the Joneses recommend these five steps as an initial starting point.

  1. Audit your organization to determine if it’s a safe space for diverse team members.
  2. Hire a person of color to act as a DEI facilitator for your organization. Look outside of real estate to get a broader perspective.
  3. Look at your own numbers to see who you serve at your company, in relation to who is being served in the community.
  4. Research the homeownership gap among different populations in your area. Find ways to advocate for these populations, including via housing policy and FHA/VA spot approvals.
  5. Connect with the public schools and go beyond “ratings” to understand the communities better. Understand that segregated schools are the result of segregated neighborhoods and housing policies.

Understanding the ROI of Building a More Thoughtful Brokerage

This is lifelong work, the Joneses reminded the audience as they wrapped up their session. While they have made strides in their initial DEI goals, the couple has a list of things they still want to focus on in the future, including getting more educated and vocal about gentrification, reparations, and fair housing.

And while they noted that they’ve been able to increase their visibility, units sold, and gross commissions while prioritizing DEI across Windermere Abode, the Joneses also wanted to note that the true ROI of this work won’t be found in a bank account.

“The ROI is you,” Dave said. “You’re investing in yourself and when you invest in yourself and you reflect and show that as a leader, you’ll reap the benefits moving forward.”

Brokers and agents are the gatekeepers of the community, echoed Anne. They “have a big voice and big reach in their community. Committing to diversity, equity, and inclusion “is a big opportunity to make substantive change.”

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